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The Month of December: holidays, folklore and traditions

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Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat;
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!

—Beggar’s rhyme.

The month of December brings many holidays, feasts, and events! Learn some facts about the 12th month on our calendar, a short history, and what the month is known for! From St. Nicholas Day to Christmas, it’s really a busy month. Just remember to grab a cup of hot chocolate and relax when you can!

Well, December is the 12th (and last) month in our modern-day Gregorian calendar (as it was in the preceding Julian calendar).
However, it was originally the 10th month of the Roman calendar, until 153 BC. Hence its name, “December”, comes from the Latin word “decem”, meaning, not by chance, “ten.”
In fact, back in Roman times, the calendar only had ten months and began with March.
Curious enough, the winter period was not even assigned months because it was not an active time for military, agriculture, or civil life.
Always in ancient Roman times, 17 December was the beginning of the festival of Saturnalia, in honour of the god of agriculture. It was originally just a day event but eventually grew into a seven day orgy of feasting and merrymaking, elements which later appeared in the Christmas, New Year and Twelfth Night celebrations in the UK.
The Saturnalia was a holiday period for all including the slaves, who were waited on by their masters for the duration. Presents were exchanged, informal clothes worn and gambling games permitted. It was also customary to appoint a master of the revels, a character that reappeared in England as the Lord of Misrule, who formally presided over the Christmas celebrations, or over the entire period from All-Hallows Eve (31 October) to Candlemas (2 February).

The month of December originally consisted of 30 days but, when January and February were added to the calendar (around 700 BCE), December was shortened to 29 days.
Then, in the subsequent Julian calendar, two days were added to December, making it 31 days long.
The Anglo-Saxons called it “Winter monath” or “Yule monath” because of the custom of burning the yule log around this time. After many Anglo-Saxons became Christians they called it “Heligh monath” or holy month, because Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is celebrated in December.

Among its major holidays, we have December 6, Saint Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, inspires traditions around the world, including Santa Claus, stocks or shoes filled with sweets and many more.

December 7 is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Historically, at dawn on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an attempt to cripple the fleet and hinder U.S. intervention in other Japanese targets in the South Pacific.
The Japanese military expected that Germany would defeat Great Britain and the Soviet Union and that Japan would control the Pacific. The attack was opposed by Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who cautioned against a war with the United States, but he was overruled. After the attack, he said, “We have awakened a sleeping giant and have instilled in him a terrible resolve.”
And he was right. Although airfields, port facilities, and warships were severely damaged and two battleships, the Utah and the Arizona, were destroyed, the attack mobilized the United States and signaled its entry into World War II.

December 13 is St. Lucia’s Day, which has long been associated with festivals of light. Before the Gregorian calendar reform in 1752, her feast day occurred on the shortest day of the year (hence the popular saying “Lucy light, Lucy light, shortest day and longest night”).

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day, a day that honors the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which occurred on this day, 1791. These laws protect basic human rights, including freedom of religion, speech, and peaceable assembly. Franklin D. Roosevelt first proclaimed Bill of Rights Day in 1941.
On this day, people fly the U.S. flag and to reflect upon the significance of these amendments.

December 17 is Wright Brothers Day.
Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first recorded flight in history of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft.

December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the astronomical first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

December 25 is Christmas Day, a major Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.

December 26 is Boxing Day, a centuries’ old gift-giving day that originated in Britain, and the first day of Kwanzaa, a week-long holiday held annually from December 26 to January 1.
Basically, Kwanzaa celebrates family, culture, community, and the harvest. The word “Kwanzaa” itself comes from the Kiswahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits (of the harvest).”
Kwanzaa focuses on seven essential principles, known as the Nguzo Saba, which are each represented by one day of the seven-day celebration. These principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani).

Holy Innocents Day, also known as Childermas, falls on 28 December.
It commemorates King Herod’s massacre of all male infants in and around Bethlehem under the age of two in attempt to kill Baby Jesus.
In the days when Christmas was less child-centred, Childermas was a time for indulging children with treats and parties.
But, on a more sombre note, 28 December is widely regarded as the unluckiest day of the year, so don’t do anything and certainly don’t start anything on this day!

And don’t forget, on the last evening of the year, December 31, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing, maybe under the Mistletoe

And did you know that December is National Pear Month?
You can celebrate also these fun holidays this month:

December 4 is National Cookie Day (yum!), but also Wear Brown Shoes Day, while December 5 is National Sacher-Torte Day.
December 7 is National Cotton Candy Day, and December 8 National Brownie Day.
December 11 is International Mountain Day, and December 12 National Poinsettia Day, but also Gingerbread House Day.
December 13 is National Violin Day, but also National Day of the Horse and December 14 National Roasted Chestnuts Day.
December 20 is Underdog Day and Sangria Day
December 26 is National Candy Cane Day, December 30 National Bacon Day and December 31 is National Champagne Day.

December’s full Moon, named “full Cold Moon”, in 2021 appears on Saturday, December 18, reaching peak illumination at 11:37 P.M. EST., but look skyward on the night of December 13 after 9 P.M. for a chance to catch a glimpse of the Geminid meteors! the most active shower of the year!
This year, the peak of the meteor shower lands just one day after the new Moon, meaning that the sky will be clean and dark, perfect for stargazing! And, If the sky is clear and temperatures aren’t too chilly, it’s worth venturing outside to try to see the Geminids.

About the moon, according to folklore, the nearer the New Moon to Christmas Day, the harder the Winter!

December’s traditional birthstone is turquoise. It is considered a symbol of good fortune and success, as well as a love charm, and it is believed to relax the mind and to protect its wearer from harm. Turquoise rings, in particular, are thought to keep away evil spirits.
Unlike many other gems, turquoise is opaque rather than translucent. Its blue-green color can vary, with bluer stones considered more valuable.
It is found most often in very dry areas where volcanic activity has occurred.
In ancient Turkey, Tibet, and Persia, turquoise stones were attached to horses’ bridles, and It was thought that the stones protected the animals from the ill effects of drinking cold water when they were overheated from exertion.
Tanzanite and zircon are also considered to be traditional December birthstones.

December’s birth flowers are the holly (Ilex aquifolium) and the paperwhite Narcissus (Euphorbia pulcherrima), a relative of the daffodil with beautiful white blooms.
December’s flowers may be very different from each other: if one is a bulb, the other is an evergreen shrub.
But they both symbolize hope!
In details, holly symbolizes a wish for domestic happiness.
Despite some animals and birds enjoy holly berries, they are semi-toxic to humans.
While there are many types of flowers in the genus Narcissus (including the daffodil), the paperwhite is the winter-growing variety and the birth flower for December.

And what about folklore and superstitions?
Well, a Christmas pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in honour of the Wise Men!

If you take a candle to church this Christmas, don’t bring it home, blow it out and leave it there with the vicar for good luck.

And did you know that, on Christmas Eve, all animals can speak? However, it is bad luck to test this superstition!

Also wearing new shoes on Christmas Day will bring bad luck (please don’t ask me why!), but good luck will come to the home where a fire is kept burning throughout the Christmas season.

If a girl raps at the henhouse door on Christmas Eve and a rooster crows, she will marry within the year.

About weather, it seems that a clear star-filled sky on Christmas Eve will bring good crops in the summer and, If sun shines through the apple trees upon a Christmas Day, when autumn comes they will a load of fruit display.
And, snow on Christmas means Easter will be green while, on the other hand, a green Christmas means a white Easter.

If New Year’s Eve night-wind blows south,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If north, cold and storms there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man and brute!

A last fact: on December 24, in the parish church of Dewsbury, Yorkshire, a team of bell ringers toll the tenor bell “Black Tom of Soothill” – once for every year since Christ was born, and the final stroke is timed for midnight.
Legend has it the practice began in the 13th century when Thomas de Soothill, a local baron, killed a servant boy. As penance he gave a bell to All Saint’s Church and ordered it rung every Christmas to remind him of his crime.
After midnight Black Tom is rung once more to remind the Devil of his defeat by the birth of Christ and to protect the town from evil for the coming year.

Images from web – Google Research

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